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Shanghai: Roland Emmerich, Frant Gwo on China’s Sci-fi Prospects

Roland Emmerich
People Picture/Jens Hartmann/Shutterstock

Iconic Chinese and Hollywood directors Frant Gwo and Roland Emmerich did not take the stage together at the Shanghai International Film Festival, but on Monday they got the chance to praise each other’s movies and share insights into sci-fi.

“I totally understand why it did well,” said “Independence Day” director Emmerich of Gwo’s recent “Wandering Earth,” a film which earned more than $680 million at the Chinese box office and has launched a wave of interest in Chinese sci-fi projects.

“It has lots of effects. It is good quality. And it is very Chinese, in that it is the story of a group of people, not just about a single person,” said Emmerich speaking at a panel discussion about sci-fi and technology.

Earlier, at a panel on industrializing the Chinese industry, Gwo thanked Chinese audiences for being tolerant of the “many things wrong” with “Wandering Earth. He said that he had spent a great effort on elements that convince viewers that his fictional universe could be real. “It is a question of trust,” he said.

At the two sessions Chinese film makers discussed the perceived technological and story-telling gaps between Chinese sci-fi and Hollywood’s. Gwo and Teng Huatou, screenwriter and executive producer of the upcoming “Shanghai Fortress,” estimated that Chinese film makers may be 30 years behind.

Those guesses seem like gross over-estimates if Chinese film makers continue to pour money into the genre and adopt more efficient production techniques. Teng said that on “Fortress” a Chinese supervisor is wrangling shots from seven international effects providers.

Gwo concurred with “Tomb Raider” director Simon West, on the need for standardization of production elements such as scripts. Gwo said that now that “Wandering Earth” is no longer in theaters, he has engaged research firm FANIC to conduct a study of what audiences liked and disliked about the movie. In addition to story elements, he wants feedback on details such as which props and costumes were appreciated.

Oscar-winning British visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin (“Inception”) was on hand to give tips about models, digital effects, and story-telling through image and design.

Like West, who explained the massive amounts of pre-production that Hollywood movies undergo before shooting, Franklin explained the process of preparation that allows industrial scale effects work. “On ‘Venom’ our team expanded from 20 people on set, to 1,500 in post-production,” he said.

Emmerich briefly discussed “Midway” his upcoming big-budget war action film which has a significant financial investment from China’s Bona Film Group. “It was very expensive for an independent movie,” he said. “But ‘Midway’ was a special situation, because U.S. and Chinese (military forces) were allied on the same side, against the Japanese.”

Emmerich played down the perceived gap between China and Hollywood. “There are sci-fi stories that will appeal equally to Chinese, German and American. They will become more global and less Hollywood.”

“Chinese must not lose identity as it reaches out to the world,” said Franklin. “Watching ‘Wandering Earth’ taught me things about modern China that I didn’t know. It gave me a viewpoint on modern China, and its history.”